From Snails Are Dissolving in Pacific Ocean (original article here)

Image courtesy of Arctic Exploration 2002, Russ Hopcroft, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, NOAA/OER

Recent findings show that CO2 emissions are increasingly acidifying oceans, causing snail shells in the Pacific Ocean to dissolve! This may have far reaching impacts on ocean life, affecting a variety of organisms, especially those within the same food chain.

The world’s oceans absorb about a quarter of the carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted by human activities each year. From a climate stand point, this means the oceans have been doing us a huge favor: since the Industrial Revolution of the late 1700’s there is around 25% less CO2 in the atmosphere than there would have been had the oceans not provided us a partial CO2 sink. However, like anything else in life, there isn’t really such a thing as a “free gift”. And in this case, it’s the ocean ecosystems that are paying the price. One impact of increased CO2 input to the oceans is increased acidification of ocean water. New investigations have found that the shells of common Pacific Ocean marine snails are exhibiting signs of being dissolved by an acidic environment. This is because marine creatures with shells build up their shells from calcium carbonate. In plain water (neutral pH) calcium carbonate has very low solubility. However, as acidity of the solution increases, the solubility of calcium carbonate increases and dissolves the calcium carbonate in the solid shell into calcium ions and carbonate ions in the surrounding ocean water.

This is a warning sign for the future of oceans at the current rate of CO2 emissions: when bottom-of-the-food chain species become threatened, the rest of the food chain that depends on them is in danger. In the case of Pacific Ocean snails, they are a key food source for Pacific Pink Salmon; decreasing the availability of the snails would have a negative impact on Pink Salmon populations.

And yet, while we don’t know enough about how bad the effects will be, ocean acidification is a huge threat to a wide variety of sea life. While other threats such as oil spills are localized, acidification is global (although we are not sure how fast it will affect the deep sea yet), making it a threat to many in the ocean.

A special thanks to Harvard Ph.D students Archana Dayalu and Heather Olins for sharing their expertise.

Managing editor, Ankita Shastri

Read more on climate change from SITN-
Climate change: what we know and where we go from here
Why we need sustainable energy

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